he grew a beard
“I find that I don't care about Ohio State at all.” (Brian Cook, 11/23/2010)
Has it come to this? That during this week, the week of Thanksgiving and our unity against the common foe of That Team Down South, our esteemed leader can’t bring himself to care about Ohio State?
Cannibalism may be fun for the short term, but in isolation it’s not a viable long-term survival strategy. To repeat the already-repeated obvious – everyone wants Michigan football to be good on the field, good in the classroom, and good in society. That’s the end, upon which we all agree (though likely with different views on the appropriate mix of those three factors). What we can’t agree on is the most effective means to that end.
All this shouting has become tiresome, and it seems like the site has become a perverse echo chamber. Rodriguez has improved in wins every year… he lacks ‘quality’ wins. The offense has improved… the defense has worsened. The cupboard was bare…the pantry was emptied. Inexperience has been exploited and will improve…experienced bad players are still bad players. The coaches demand the most out of the players… the coaches can’t get the most out of the players. It’s GERG’s fault… it’s the guy who hired GERG’s fault. New blood was needed…the old way worked.
One thing we can learn from economics – when there’s only one dimension to consider, there’s generally an optimal position to maximize total happiness (or utility, or whatever). Imagine a single ice cream stand on a beach full of sunbathers – the optimal location of the ice cream stand is the one that minimizes the total distance that the sunbathers have to walk. But when we start adding multiple dimensions – younger customers are willing to walk further, the demand varies by the weather, some customers will walk further for certain flavors but not for others, there’s an Italian ice stand as well, customers have different amounts they can pay, some ingredients are more costly than others, and you have to pay rent for the beach space, etc. – there no longer is a clear optimum. Furthermore, there’s no mathematical solution – you can only simulate and try to find optima.
We’re at the point where there’s no math, no hard and fast truth, that clearly states the right course of action for the program. We are all finding our local optima and arguing from that point. Sure, some points aren’t actually optimal, but there’s so many of points of discussion that it becomes impossible to determine the truth. (Note: Brian, a comp sci guy, would argue that with enough data processing power the truth can be discerned from all but the most random of data points – but we’re not supercomputers).
What’s the way out of this mess? The Founding Fathers had it figured out – representation. We are, collectively, the muddled masses with a multitude of conflicting, confusing opinions. And so we need a representative to sort it all out. In this case our representative wasn’t elected; he was chosen, but he’s ours nevertheless. And while David Brandon may have some flaws, it’s hard to argue that there’s anyone in the world better suited to be Michigan’s Athletic Director. And it’s his call. Will he make the ‘right’ decision? I don’t know. I do know he’ll make the best decision he can, and he’s the best person to make that decision, and what more can you ask for?
So that’s how I’ve learned to stop worrying and love the pimp (hand). I hope that MGoBlog can remain the blog for many Michigan fans, one that educates, informs, considers, and most importantly has fun in the process. Fight amongst yourselves if you must, but remember that we ALL agree on the end, and it’s OK to disagree on the means. Remember that all but the lamest of arguments have some good points to consider. And remember that if your side ‘loses’, suck it up and move on. Besides, we always have women’s softball. Or is there a firecarolhutchins.com site?
Here's this week's update to The Michigan Difference, updated with stats from this week's games.
Another bipolar game against Wisconsin. The final offensive output was pretty good, but the defense couldn't stand up to their rushing attack. We remain #5 in Total Offense (TO) and are now #112 in Total Defense (TD).
Disclaimer: The NCAA stats are not linear, of course, and a difference of 1 yd/gm can be a large or small difference in rankings depending on how closely spaced everyone is. So as I cautioned, this isn't a hard-core statistical exercise. This analysis is pretty one-dimensional because it's long and complicated enough as it is.
I think the greatest value in this is to look back at the early games and see how well we did in comparison to what other teams ended up doing against them - what seemed like a good or bad performance at the time may look different in retrospect.
Part the First: Offense
We know our offense is great, but what kind of damage has it done to the Total Defense (TD) ratings of our opponents? Here they are thus far:
|Opponent||Games||Yards Yielded||Yds/gm||NCAA Rank|
What would these guys' defensive stats look like if they hadn't played Michigan?
|Opponent||Total Offense, M||
Opp. Avg - M,
M Total Offense,
*Opponents' average Total Defense yards per game, minus the Michigan game
**Michigan's Total Offense in game as a % of the opponent's average TD minus the Michigan game
Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin's defenses really wish they hadn't played us. They'd be in the top 20 nationally but for one game. Michigan has gained above our opponents' average yardage yielded in every game thus far, and their Total Defense rankings have suffered as a result. What's the damage?
|Opponent||TD Rank With M||TD Rank Without M||Difference|
Average change in Total Defense ranking for all opponents: -10.1 places.
Looking at the offensive performance versus the quality of the defense:
There is little correlation between Michigan's Total Offense for a game and their opponent's average Total Defense (minus M). Whatever is limiting our offense's output in a game, it is not directly related to the number of yards the opponent usually gives up. This would suggest that the offense tends to be limited by itself, rather than the opponent.
Part the Second, Defense
So the flipside of this, then, is how much has our defensive suckitude helped out our opponents stat sheet? Where would they rank in Total Offense without having played us? We'll run the same tables again, but from the opposite tack:
|Opponent||Games||Yards Gained||Yds/gm||NCAA Rank|
Wisconsin is easily the strongest offensive team we've faced thus far. The results of the game show that. MSU was pretty good, the rest varying degrees of average to bad.
|Total Defense, M||
Opp. Avg - M,
Opp Total Offense,
% of Opp Avg - M**
* Opponents' average Total Offensive performance, minus the Michigan game
** Opponents' Total Offense as a percentage of their average offensive performance, minus the Michigan game
Here's a nifty graph of our opponents' Total Offense against Michigan, versus their average Total Offense per game without the Michigan game:
In this case, we do have a reasonably good correlation. Our defense does worse against better offenses. That would suggest that we're talent-limited somewhere (either coaches or players) and the opponents' offenses tend to have their way with us. In other words, our defense doesn't shut anybody down. The more yards our opponents average per game, the better they'll do against us.
|Opponent||TO Rank With M||TO Rank Without M||Difference|
Average boost to opponents' Total Offense NCAA ranking: +5.9 places
From this perspective, the Wisconsin game was our 4th worst defensive performance of the year. As bad as we looked, three other games were worse. We were up against a very good offense, and it showed.
Part the Third: Summary
Michigan's O Difference
on Opp TD Ranking
Michigan's D Difference
on Opp TO Ranking
|Connecticut||-12||+1||W: Good O, OK D|
|Notre Dame||-15||+11||W: Good O, Terrible D|
|Bowling Green||-20||0||W: Awesome O, OK D|
|Indiana||-8||+14||W: Good O, Terrible D|
|Michigan State||-1||+10||L: OK O, Terrible D|
|Iowa||-8||0||L: Good O, OK D|
|Penn State||-4||+6||L:Good O, Bad D|
|Illinois||-22||+9||W:, Awesome O, Terrible D|
|Purdue||-1||--1||W: OK O, OK D|
|Wisconsin||-10||+9||L: Good O, Terrible D|
In subtly maize-and-blue graphical form:
New observations for this week:
Many of our previous opponents had good weeks offensively, making our defense look a bit
betterless bad in those previous games.
- Wisconsin is easily the best team we've faced yet. Offensive and defensive performances were close to mid-pack, but we got our butts kicked.
- Our offense remains impressive and will keep getting better.
- Our defense is terrible and had better get a lot better.
- Winning is still a lot more fun than losing.
In the comments section of the Wisconsin edition of my Almanack of Broken Records, Comrades Raoul and BigHouseInmate pointed out that Denard may have broken the single-season Michigan record for all-purpose touchdowns with 30 (16 passing, 14 rushing). Michigan does not actually track this particular statistic; instead, M tracks touchdowns scored (i.e., who actually carried the ball into the endzone). That record is held by Al Herrnstein, who scored 26 touchdowns in 1902.
So I had to go back and look at individual season statistics to compile the data. I actually went through the game-by-game accounts of the 1901-1905 seasons from the Michigan Alumnus in order to get accurate information about touchdown statistics in the Fielding Yost Point-A-Minute era, and reviewed old NCAA research on pre-1937 touchdown statistics. It's possible that there are other pre-WWII players that I've missed.
According to the stats I've been able to find, Robinson is indeed out front with 30 all-purpose touchdowns. On a per-game basis, Denard at 2.73 per game is second only to Tom Harmon, who scored 23 touchdowns (including a kickoff return and an interception return) over 8 games in 1940, for an average of 2.88.
It is unusual to be able to compile all-time records for a particular category, because modern football statistics only really came into being in the 1940s. But TDs and scoring are two of the few categories that we can measure from the pre-modern era, making Denard's achievement all the more impressive.
Here is the table, sorted by touchdowns per game, with a cutoff of 1.60. Remarkably, the 1901 team had three separate players score at that pace:
|Name||Yr.||Pass TD||Rush TD||Rec TD||Kick TD||Int TD||TD||G||TD/G|
|Tom Harmon, LHB||1940||7||14||0||1||1||23||8||2.88|
|Denard Robinson, QB||2010||16||14||0||0||0||30||11||2.73|
|Tom Harmon, RHB||1939||6||13||0||0||1||20||8||2.50|
|Rick Leach, QB||1978||17||12||0||0||0||29||12||2.42|
|Al Herrnstein, RHB||1902||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||26||11||2.36|
|Steve Smith, QB||1981||15||12||0||0||0||27||12||2.25|
|Chad Henne, QB||2004||25||2||0||0||0||27||12||2.25|
|Willie Heston, LHB||1904||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||20||9||2.22|
|Drew Henson, QB||2000||18||2||0||0||0||20||9||2.22|
|Ron Johnson, RHB||1968||0||19||0||0||0||19||9||2.11|
|Steve Smith, QB||1983||13||10||0||0||0||23||11||2.09|
|Elvis Grbac, QB||1991||25||0||0||0||0||25||12||2.08|
|Chad Henne, QB||2005||23||1||0||0||0||24||12||2.00|
|John Navarre, QB||2003||24||0||1||0||0||25||13||1.92|
|Rick Leach, QB||1976||13||10||0||0||0||23||12||1.92|
|Steve Smith, QB||1982||14||9||0||0||0||23||12||1.92|
|Desmond Howard, SE||1991||0||2||19||2||0||23||12||1.92|
|Willie Heston, LHB||1901||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||20||11||1.82|
|Bob Chappuis, LHB||1947||15||5||0||0||0||20||11||1.82|
|John Navarre, QB||2002||21||2||0||0||0||23||13||1.77|
|Elvis Grbac, QB||1990||21||0||0||0||0||21||12||1.75|
|Tom Brady, QB||1999||20||1||0||0||0||21||12||1.75|
|Neil Snow, FB||1901||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||19||11||1.73|
|Bruce Shorts, RT||1901||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||17||10||1.70|
|Chad Henne, QB||2006||22||0||0||0||0||22||13||1.69|
|Willie Heston, LHB||1902||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||15||9||1.67|
(EDIT: I added Bob Chappuis' 1947, Ron Johnson's 1968, and Bruce Shorts' 1901 seasons to the list, and added the offensive positions that each player filled. Note that Shorts scored 17 TDs as an offensive lineman: now those were the days!)
The NCAA FBS (I-A) single-season record is 63 touchdowns, by Colt Brennan of Hawaii in 2006 (58 passing, 5 rushing). The per-game record is 5.0 in 1990, by David Klingler of Houston (55 TDs in 11 games).
The FBS single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback is 27, by Ricky Dobbs of Navy in 2009 (in 14 games). The season record for most touchdowns scored (i.e., excluding TD passes thrown) is 39, by Barry Sanders in 1988 over 11 games.
Tim Tebow is the only player to have both thrown and run for 20 touchdowns: in 2007, he threw for 32 and ran for 23. (Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan threw for 27, ran for 19, and caught 1 in 2007.) Cameron Newton may join this 20/20 club in 2010; he has thrown for 21 TDs and run for 17, with three games left.
The Michigan career record for most touchdowns scored is held by Yost-era legend Willie Heston, with 69 from 1901-1904 (the Michigan record book lists Heston at 72 TDs, which is incorrect according to my game-by-game tally). The record for most all-purpose touchdowns is held by Chad Henne, who threw for 87 and ran for 3 (for a total of 90) from 2004-2007. If Denard plays through his senior season, there is a realistic chance that he could break Henne's record. (EDIT: I changed this from the previous version, which incorrectly cited Heston as the all-purpose career leader.)
Here is the team photo of the all-time great team of 1901, courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library. Al Herrnstein is the right-most player in the front row. Neil Snow is the second from the left in the middle row. Willie Heston is right-most in the middle row. Fielding Yost is in the center of the back row. The "501-0" football that captain Hugh White is holding reflects the fact that this picture was taken before the team beat Stanford 49-0 in the inaugural Rose Bowl game of 1902. The lopsided score so disappointed Rose Bowl officials that they didn't hold a second Rose Bowl game until 1916.
I saw reference to DB mentioning that the BB team needs new facilities. It has been a thought rattling in my empty head for years -- it seemed to me that both MSU and OSU became much more competitive after Breslin and Value City opened. Crisler is an anvil, sinking the ability of either or men's or women's BB teams to get competitive, because we play in a total dump.
Not that you have to have a good facility to have a good BB team. Howevah -- looking at our competitors in the conference, it seems logical to me that, if we want to compete annually with MSU and OSU and IU and UI etc., we can't be in a gym that looks like a parking garage, at night, in the worst part of town (or, in Columbus), compared to the fancy, bright gyms.
Statistics bear me out....
Breslin Center opened in 1989. Here are the Men's BB team records (ovearll / Big Ten), before and after Breslin opened:
MSU Men's BB
1982-83 17-13 / 9-9
1983-84 16-12 / 9-9
1984-85 19-10 / 10-8
1985-86 23-8 / 12-6
1986-87 11-17 / 6-12
1987-88 10-18 / 5-13
1988-89 18-15 / 6-12
1989-90 28-6 / 15-3
1990-91 19-11 / 11-7
1991-92 22-8 / 11-7
1992-93 15-13 / 7-11
1993-94 20-12 / 10-8
1994-95 22-6 / 14-4
Seems to me, that's a stastical bump turning on the year Breslin opened. It's a pretty good control too, because Jud was the coach of all of those teams. Izzo took over sometime after 1994-95 season.
I looked at the women's team too, but except for a very short bump a couple years after Breslin opened, not quite the same trend:
MSU Women's BB
1982-83 11-16 / 7-11
1983-84 18-10 / 10-8
1984-85 11-16 / 4-14
1985-86 15-12 / 9-9
1986-87 16-12 / 8-10
1987-88 16-12 / 12-6
1988-89 15-13 / 9-9
1989-90 11-17 / 7-11
1990-91 21-8 / 13-5
1991-92 14-14 / 8-10
1992-93 10-17 / 6-12
1993-94 12-15 / 7-11
1994-95 16-12 / 8-8
Value City Arena opened in the 1997-1998 season. There is a DEFINITE bump in the record, but there is another factor affecting it too:
OSU Men's BB
1992-93 15-13 / 8-10
1993-94 13-16 / 6-12
1994-95 6-22 / 2-16
1995-96 10-17 / 3-15
1996-97 10-17 / 5-13
1997-98 8-22 / 1-15
1998-99 27-9 / 11-4
1999-00 22-7 / 13-3
2000-01 20-11 / 11-6
2001-02 24-8 / 12-5
2002-03 17-15 / 7-9
2003-04 14-16 / 6-10
That is unquestionably a big jump in record when moving to the new arena. But there is another factor too -- Randy Ayers coached those before-VCA teams, and Jim O'Brien coached the first seven teams in VCA. (Officially, OSU lost all of those games, but you know, C-Web -- HATE HIM -- wasn't there to not call a timeout we wouldn't have had if we were in that game, which officially we weren't in.)
The OSU women's hoop's team didn't quite get exactly the same bump immediately:
OSU Women's BB
1992-93 28-4 / 16-2
1993-94 14-14 / 7-11
1994-95 17-13 / 7-9
1995-96 21-13 / 8-8
1996-97 12-16 / 3-13
1997-98 15-12 / 7-9
1998-99 17-12 / 9-7
1999-00 13-15 / 5-11
2000-01 22-11 / 5-11
2001-02 18-11 / 6-10
2002-03 14-15 / 8-8
2003-04 22-10 / 10-6
2004-05 21-10 / 11-5
2005-06 30-5 / 14-2
The OSU hockey team got a MAJOR bump in performance by moving to VCA. They made the NCAA for the first time in the season they moved into VCA (1997-98). They have been to the NCAA several times since then. I think you could legitimately argue, OSU hockey got on the map only by moving into VCA. (Not to say Yost is hurting UM, cuz, obviously, it isn't.)
Upshot for UM
VCA cost like, what, $255M? UM just spent that on the upgraded football digs, I don't think DB is thinking of plowing another quarter-billion into a new basketball facility.
HOWEVER... we just have to face facts here, as long as we play in a dump, we can't really expect to get the best recruits -- whomever is the coach. Getting the new digs clearly seems to have an impact on getting in good recruits, as MSU's and OSU's experiences show.
If the U won't replace Crisler (or so significantly upgrade it that it LOOKS brand new), I don't think we can realistically expect to build a national contender on the men's side, given the teams against whom we recruit. It doesn't appear that a new arena is a guarantee for success on the women's team, however.
Errors, Errors, and More Errors: As I watched the game on Saturday, it became obvious to me that turnovers may not tell the entire story. I saw error after error by M that caused many, many points to be left off the board. None of these are classified as TOs but can be just as damaging. So, I decided to see if I had lost my mind or not. I have not lost my mind. M had at least 8 ERRORS that cost us 21-35 points! Well, you say, every team makes errors, right? Wrong – Wisconsin had ZERO errors! BTW, W has 17 seniors (4th or 5th year) on their starting offense and defense. M has 5.
As weird as it may seem, the errors are a much bigger problem than the actual TOs. So, FOR GOD'S SAKE, QUIT STOPPING OURSELVES!
Synopsis for Turnovers: The game ended with 2 TOs for each team and, of course, a TOM of –0-. Gallon's fumbled KO return was followed by Rogers intercepting a pass on the same Wisconsin drive and saving at least a FG. Unfortunately, the interception came with only 30 seconds left in the half. Wisconsin's lone fumble led to a Michigan TD and Denard's lone interception on a tipped pass led to a Wisconsin FG.
Michigan has a TOM of –7 which is exactly ONE turnover less than it was last year before the osu game (after an additional –4 TOM in the osu game we ended the year at –12). TOs lost are now 123% of the average team and TOs gained are just 82% of average. Since we have a negative TOM, the overall ranking actually improved but is still FUGLY at #101. So – HOLD ON TO THE GOD DAMN BALL AND THROW THE GOD DAMN BALL TO OUR RECEIVERS!!
Synopsis for Special Teams: Unbelievable! Yet another missed FG and the 3 extra points by Gibbons barely made it over the crossbars. The fact that RR keeps having these guys kick the ball at all is the triumph of hope over experience. Hagerup continued to punt well with 3 punts and a net average of 40 yards. Stonnum did much better than Gallon at KO returns but that looks to be over with his injury. Not sure who will be returning punts and KOs against osu. That is too bad because KO and punt return yards allowed is a weakness of the boys down south.
Details for Turnovers: Here is the Summary by Game. According to the folks at Football Outsiders a first down TO is worth 5 points, second down TO is worth 4.5 points, and a third down TO is worth 4.0 points (regardless of field position!).
The extrapolation is a straight line [Totals] X [13 Total Games / Games Played]. AQ Best and AQ average is over the past 10 years. AQ Best is kind of funky because the team with the "best" in each category is different so the numbers don't add. But, it does provide a point of reference.
Here is the detail of each fumble/interception and a comment providing insight if the turnover (or lack thereof) was significant. Note, blocked punts are not considered a turnover and an interception of an extra point is not considered a turnover (player does not get credit for a interception).
Here is the overall summary by player (data in yellow was affected by this week's game).
Details for Special Teams: Here are the Punting and Kickoff statistics. (Touchbacks are included as –20 yards when determining net yards.)
Remember here are the correlations of TOM to WLM at season's end.
[Ed: bumped for general interestingness.]
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielma made the following statement after the Badgers 48-28 victory over Michigan on Saturday:
"We're not the spread offense, so it's not sexy," he said. "We're not on the [top] of everybody's wish list. But I tell you what—48 points is fun."
This, after Michigan’s vaunted offense had stalled out at inopportune times and Wisconsin’s pro-style attack had done as it pleased throughout the game en route to 48 points on 558 yards with only one punt along the way. The Wisconsin offense had more fun than Michigan’s.
Despite claims that it cannot be successful in major college football, there is little doubt that the spread offense, in general, works at the highest level of the NCAA. The top two teams in the nation this season, Oregon and Auburn, both employ it in some fashion. The spread is viable, just as the pro-style is viable. However, there is wide variation in productivity across teams within the same basic offensive scheme.
Michigan’s spread offense this year has been something of a revelation, thanks largely to the ascendance of Denard Robinson. The feats that Robinson has accomplished as a true sophomore in his first season as a starter are truly remarkable. This is virtually indisputable. With two games remaining in the season, he has already broken the all-time FBS rushing record for a quarterback and has become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards while rushing for 1,500. His season has been an historic one.
Behind Robinson, Michigan’s offense has been at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five nationally for much of the season in terms of yards per game. Big plays abound, and 500-yard games have become more the rule than the exception. This prolific output has created much buzz around the offensive side of the ball (and stand in stark contrast the immense struggles of the defense). Indeed, the offense has almost single-“sidedly” carried the team to victories against Illinois, Indiana, and Notre Dame, and its fluency has become the loudest argument for Rich Rodriguez to stay at the helm in Ann Arbor beyond this season.
However, the offense has been outshined in Michigan’s losses. In these contests, Michigan's offense didn't just fail to play like a top-five unit nationally. It wasn't the better unit on the field during the game. In these games, Michigan produced 377, 522, 423, and 442 yards against Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin, respectively, while yielding 536, 383, 435, and 558 yards. Michigan’s maligned defense was party to these opponents’ gaudy offensive outputs, but Michigan’s offense did not keep pace. Not surprisingly, these four opponents also have some of the best scoring defenses of the teams that Michigan has faced this year, and the question arises as to whether Michigan’s “sexy” offense can be successful against good defensive teams.
The offense has improved in three seasons under Rodriguez, and, even now, it remains young. Its leader, Robinson, is a true sophomore, as is starting tailback Vincent Smith. The starting offensive line has only one senior [ed: depending on the health of Perry Dorrestein] and the wide receiver corps has none. One could argue that there is still room for growth and that the trajectory demonstrated over the past two years under Rodriguez is positive. Still, it bears examining exactly where the offense is at present. Is it an unstoppable force or a paper tiger? Or something in between? This analysis dissects the Michigan offense with one game to go in the 2010 season.
Yards, scoring, games, and drives
Michigan’s offense works fast. There is no huddle. They get to the line of scrimmage quickly. They gain yards in chunks. They score in a flash. All of this, in part, leads to shorter times of possession per drive, which generally leads to more drives per game (the defense giving up long, run-laden drives to the opponent notwithstanding). Michigan, as of November 19, had the most drives in the Big Ten this season (105, tied with Illinois) against BCS competition. Wisconsin had the fewest number of drives in the Big Ten against BCS opponents with 71.
A more useful way of understanding offensive effectiveness than looking at yards per game is to examine what an offense does with a typical drive. The importance of drives was illustrated in the first half of the Michigan-Wisconsin game, as Michigan had only four full drives to work with. What a team does with a drive is a means of measuring offense that allows for fair cross-team comparison. As of Friday, Michigan averaged 2.57 points per drive (PPD) this season against BCS teams, good for third in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin (3.72) and Ohio State (3.19) and tied with Iowa.
Table 1 - Points per drive against BCS opponents
Calculated with data from www.cfbstats.com: drives = punts + fumbles lost + interceptions + failed 4th down conversions + FG attempts + TDs
Michigan’s offense is above-average relative to other teams in the conference in this stat but not as dominant as the yardage number suggest. Stated alternatively, this statistic suggests that Michigan scores a touchdown roughly one out of three drives against BCS competition. When taking into consideration the number of drives in which an offense has an opportunity to score, Michigan's offense is still among the leaders in the Big Ten.
“Michigan’s offense can score on anybody”
It goes without saying that an offense typically performs worse against a better defense. One would expect an offense to do less with a typical drive against a good defense compared to a bad defense. However, with Michigan this season, this relationship is ambiguous. Table 2 shows Michigan's BCS opponents’ points-allowed-per-game (PAPG) against BCS competition alongside Michigan’s PPD against them.
Table 2 - Michigan's PPD by BCS opponent and opponent's scoring defense against BCS competition
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com and team statistics from www.cfbstats.com
Michigan’s most productive games, in terms of PPD, came against Indiana, Connecticut, Penn State, Illinois, and Wisconsin, in that order. Against these foes, Michigan’s PPD was better than what would be considered average in the Big Ten this season and better than their own average through the Wisconsin game. Indiana has the worst scoring defense among Michigan’s nine BCS opponents, and Michigan’s offense enjoyed their best PPD output against them. Otherwise, Connecticut has the fifth best scoring defense, Penn State the seventh, Illinois the sixth, and Wisconsin the third. Michigan’s worst PPD came against Purdue, who has a poor scoring defense (eighth among opponents), but weather conditions during that game may explain this apparent deviation. Further, it could be argued that Connecticut’s relatively low points-allowed-per-game is due their membership in the Big East and a weaker slate of BCS competition. Regardless, with a sample size of well over one hundred drives, opponents’ scoring defense does not predict Michigan’s PPD with statistical significance (p = .42). These results would appear to support claims that Michigan’s productive offense can “score against anybody” and could perhaps provide evidence against arguments that Rodriguez’s spread offense cannot succeed against good defensive teams.
All drives are not created equal
The success of a drive varies in importance based on the circumstances of the game. Scoring a touchdown when the score is tied is more valuable than scoring a touchdown when down 30. One criticism of the Michigan offense this season is that it struggles to capitalize on opportunities to extend leads and put teams away. Table 3 shows that Michigan has scored a touchdown on 48% of drives when the game is tied, 44% of drives when they are behind, and only 17% of drives when they are ahead. This difference in scoring percentage across these three situational categories is statistically significant (χ = 12.12, p < .05). Michigan’s drives are apparently more successful when the score is even or when they are behind. They have scored touchdowns at a much lower rate when in position to go up by multiple scores.
Table 3 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes (count and row percentages shown)
|No points||Field goal||Touchdown||PPD|
|Ahead||34 (81%)||1 (2%)||7 (17%)||1.21|
|Tied||10 (44%)||2 (9%)||11 (48%)||3.61|
|Behind||22 (51%)||2 (5%)||19 (44%)||3.23|
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com
A further criticism of Michigan’s offense is that it not only fails to put games away when presented with an opportunity, but also that it is successful against good defenses only when the game is already out of hand, that is, when the opponent is ahead by a wide margin. In all games against BCS competition, Michigan has scored touchdowns on 46% of drives that begin with them down by ten or more points; they have scored touchdowns on only 30% of drives that begin with them within ten points, tied, or ahead. This difference, however, is not statistically significant (p = .21). How does this difference bear out against good defenses?
The best defenses Michigan has faced this year are Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, which are also three of the top four teams in the Big Ten (along with Ohio State). Against these teams, Michigan’s offense has performed well when they are down by ten or more points. In these large-deficit scenarios, the offense has averaged 2.80 PPD, above their overall season average and toward the top end of the Big Ten. When down by ten or more, they have scored touchdowns on eight of 20 occasions, a rate of 40%. When the game is close (i.e., when Michigan is within ten, tied, or ahead) the story is considerably different for this team. When the game is still in the balance, Michigan has averaged 1.43 PPD, with two field goals and two touchdowns (14% rate) in 14 opportunities—this is significantly worse than when the deficit is large (χ = 4.87, p < .10).
Table 4 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes against top defenses (count and row percentages shown)
|No points||Field goal||Touchdown||PPD|
|Down 10+ points||12 (60%)||0 (0%)||8 (40%)||2.80|
|Within 10 points, tied, or ahead||10 (71%)||2 (14%)||2 (14%)||1.43|
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com
The data show that Michigan’s offense has been poor—as bad as the worst Big Ten teams’ average PPD output—against the best teams in the Big Ten when the game is close. Their most impressive offensive work against these good teams has come once they already trail significantly, in which case they have performed above-average relative to average Big Ten PPD standards.
So is the Michigan offense an elite offense?
Looking at the success of offensive drives, a statistic that controls for the pace of the game and the number of overall opportunities an offense has, Michigan has a good offense relative to the rest of the Big Ten—they are tied for third in productivity with Iowa, behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan averages the most yards per game and has scored the second most points in the conference, but they have also had the most opportunities to accumulate yards and points, most likely due to the fast pace at which they execute their offense, the quickness with which they have sometimes scored, and their high rate of turnovers. They are third best in the Big Ten at capitalizing on drives.
So, is Michigan’s spread offense under Rodriguez elite? The answer appears to be, “circumstantially.” They perform very well when the game is tied or when they trail. The offense struggles, however, to pull away when they have a lead. Further, the offense has struggled in close-game situations against the best Big Ten teams. There is much variability in how the offense performs, dependent, in part, on the score of the game when the offense assumes possession.
This situational inconsistency may be attributable to a variety of factors (e.g., youth and inexperience on offense, conservative play-calling when ahead, nerves), and one can speculate as to which are most salient. These analyses are intended to deconstruct the offense and offer a more nuanced picture of the state of that side of the ball, beyond a rough yards- or points-per-game. With the travails of Michigan’s defense this season, it is tempting (and perhaps healthful) to look at the offense as being “solid” and not something to worry about. Compared to the defensive unit, this may be true, but there are interesting and complicated phenomena at play with Michigan’s sexy side, as well.
Other tidbits from the data
Starting field position does not significantly affect the likelihood of the Michigan offense scoring a touchdown (odds ratio = .98, p = .20).
Michigan’s offensive productivity, in terms of PPD, is highest in the first quarter (2.81), followed by the third (2.72), fourth (2.33), and second (2.00) quarters.
Michigan’s offensive productivity against good defenses (Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin), in terms of PPD, is highest by far in the third quarter (3.50), followed by the fourth (2.63), first (1.43), and second (1.11) quarters.
Michigan has yet to score on its third drive of any game versus a BCS opponent this season; its highest PPD is on its second drive of the game (4.22).
There is variation in the point outcome of a drive, that is, some drives end in zero points, some in three, some in seven. This variation may be due to factors associated with the opponent (e.g., the quality of their defense) or factors associated just with the drive (e.g., whether the team is ahead or behind when the drive begins). Cluster analyses show that almost 100% of the variance in Michigan’s points earned on a drive is due to factors associated with the unique drive. This suggests that our opponent, per se, has little bearing on the outcome of a drive, once one takes into consideration unique aspects of the drive, such as the how far ahead or behind Michigan is.